Guest Column: Put ‘right to clean environment’ in constitution

By Guest Columnist  JACQUI THURLOW- LIPPISCHJacquiThurlow-Lippisch

Just like the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution protects our essential rights as Florida citizens, such as religious freedom and due process of law.

Some may argue that our rights as Floridians are sufficiently covered under the existing Florida Constitution. However, I think the definition of our “rights” as citizens is evolving.

That’s especially true in Florida, which is known across the world for beautiful beaches and natural springs; the quality of our environment is inextricable from our quality of life and identity as Floridians. As a Republican and former mayor of Sewall’s Point in Martin County, I don’t think this is a partisan issue. Rather, environmental degradation is the great dilemma of our time.

Although Florida’s Constitution gives policymakers tools to protect our natural resources, there is evidence that our resources are under continued, significant stress. My neighbors and I on the Treasure Coast can see this happening in our own backyards. Last year, Florida made national headlines when thick. putrid algae from Lake Okeechobee — the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida — began polluting surrounding bodies of water.

As our lakes, rivers and oceans — and the wildlife and ecosystems they support — suffocate from algae and toxic plumes, it is clear the status quo is no longer working or acceptable. For too long, our state has tackled environmental problems on a case-by-case basis. I believe the best way to put our state on a path toward developing meaningful, long-term solutions is to add language to the Florida Constitution affirming Floridians’ right to a clean and healthful environment.

As a commissioner serving on the state’s 2017-2018 Constitution Revision Commission, which meets once every 20 years to examine the Florida Constitution and place proposals on the ballot for voter consideration, I’m in a unique position to help make this happen. That is why I am sponsoring a proposal submitted to the CRC by a member of the public.

At a meeting of the full Constitution Revision Commission Oct. 17 in Tallahassee, I made a motion to sponsor Public Proposal 700540 entitled, “Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment.” The proposal, authored by Traci Deen and her students at Barry University in Miami, would amend Article II, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution to add that every Floridian has the right to a clean and healthful environment and that any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private.

Read the rest of the column here. 

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